I have been pondering this line from Isaiah, and working to couple it to the challenge of John rising from the desert as the voice crying in the wilderness. The Lord promises Isaiah through the exhortation of the heavenly hosts that Israel's debts are paid, her iniquities have been set aside. That should be good news.
There's something happening here, to quote the old pop song.
From the wilderness, another prophet emerges, at least he looks and sounds like a prophet. He challenges Israel...all the people who have come out from the city to see him at the verge of the Jordan. Not a few have embraced his baptism. And, intently, he offers up that someone else is coming. He is not the one. He only baptizes with water. The Other will baptize with the spirit, the Holy Spirit.
All of the old separations are breaking down with John heralding the Advent of Our Lord. Subjugation under Rome? That is passing away (yikes, sedition!). Subjection under the law? That is now fulfilled, and with the presence of the Incarnate Son, the relationship with God is not founded on Torah anymore. It is now a personal relationship with the holy.
Everything we had founded our faith on is being challenged. Just like the current financial crisis is challenging a generation in the US that has nearly never know "want" like the rest of humanity, we are now facing the REALITY of new paths of experience in life. There is no other way. Our perceptions are being altered. The old power structures are breaking down. The old theologies don't seem to hold as much weight.
Church is...different. Not so much because the rules changed, but because we are changing-in Christ.
That is the kingdom that John points to and Jesus embodies and proclaims. That is the new challenge we face as we navigate stormy waters, pain, loss and growth in life.
It is not like this is a new story.
Isaiah preached to exiles in the late 570s BC. John exhorted the crowds in the first century. It comes down through the millennia to us, now...something is about to happen to us. The promises of God are going to be fulfilled...not sometime in the future, but "right soon" and in the here and now.
God is with us...or, in the words we know well-Emmanuel.
Behold, the voice of one crying in the wilderness.